Adnan Araour is a Syrian Salafi Shaykh who lives in Saudi Arabia. He was virtually unknown in Syria before the revolution but became popular due to his passionate support during his frequent appearances on satellite TV. However, largely due to the regime’s propaganda machine which greatly exaggerated his role as well as his views, his infamy exceeds his popularity. This regime declared him to be the Imam of the revolution, while at the same time silencing, hunting down and chasing out local, traditional Sunni scholars. A good article about Araour’s rise to fame is Phil Sands’:
Sheikh Adnan Arour’s meteoric rise from obscurity to notoriety
Shaykh Araour is clearly not what he’s made out to be by many beyond the regime and its supporters as well. There is no doubt that he is a Salafi, but he’s not a violent extremist or someone who calls towards terrorism and other criminal acts. He’s also not a Takfiri and even opposed armed struggle at the beginning of the revolution, calling for reform like everyone else. Other than that infamous remark about meat grinders, he’s barely sectarian, by quite a wide range of standards even.
Everyone knows him now, some hate him and some love him, but to most he’s simply not that relevant. Although there have been some friendly contacts of solidarity, he has no significant position amongst the Syrian scholarly community and doesn’t enjoy the status that many others do. He’s not a significant influence upon society in general or activists in particular, even though he certainly has his fans. Amongst the FSA, however, he seems to have made more of an impact. This is only natural considering his frequently televised message has been most passionately and supportively been directed at the FSA. How much of an impact exactly only recently became a topic, as he visited Syria and suddenly appeared at a unique gathering of all FSA military councils which was held on September 28. This was reported on Jazeera:
The gathering itself was quite a milestone, nearly everyone from the FSA leadership was there. Adnan Araour seemed to be the only nthe only Shaykh present, and he came to speak [from 10.30 onward]:
Prof. Landis brought this up before and in his most recent post he calls Araour an icon of the revolutionary military councils in the title. In a messaged passed on by his Sunni friend in Aleppo its mentioned how the opposition chose a corrupt Araour as its pope, and how no other religious leadership is accepted. Following that, Landis speaks of how Araour became a hero for cursing Alawites and regime supporters, and how he is a keynote speaker and a honoured Shaykh at the meeting of the councils. The video of the Jazeera report follows, after that comes Phil Sands’ article pointed out to be from before the FSA adopted Araour as its top Islamic scholar. After that comes a report about how Araour announced the rebels’ capture of Hussam Assad.
I don’t think that Prof. Landis’ portrayal of Shaykh Araour throughout the revolution has been a very fair one. I mentioned Araour once before and it wasn’t that fair either, moreover my impression of him was wrong. It was the meat grinder that did it, probably for many. I saw it first on MEMRI. Prof. Landis brought it up back July 2011 through an article by Matthew Mainen who links to the video on Daily Motion, while the compilers and translators of it are the Assadist Syria True News FB page. Memri has its own, shorter version. His words were appaling, unbefitting of any civilized person, let alone a Shaykh.
Mainen however claims that he ‘called on his Sunni counterparts to “grind the Alawites and feed them to the dogs.” His calls were recently answered, with Sunni-Alawite clashes in Homs.“‘ This is completely false in many ways, not to mention misleading. One wonders why, since we can all hear what he said and even with that poor translation filled with additions things are perfectly clear. The main issue, though there were many, was obviously the Alawite generalisation. Nearly a year later [and perhaps some other time before as well], Prof. Landis mentioned the issue with the addition of “supporters of Assad” to “Alawite” and linked to the MEMRI version which for some reason also mentions Alawites in a general sense, in a quote no less. It’s more of a category, for it’s the only part they took from a piece in which he attempted to list all religious and ethnic groups before speaking of Alawites in particular. Even the Assadists showed this part. Moreover, he doesn’t exclude any group and differentiates between those who opposed the regime, those who remained neutral and those who supported it. For the latter, informers were mentioned. None of this makes it right, even without the dog-food threat, but it’s not the extremely sectarian message and certainly not a genocidal threat against any particular community as it was made out to be.
The issue was corrected for the main part, but the damage had already been done. Alawite dog food is something that sticks. Araour was mentioned a couple more times until the most recent post. Every time he is mentioned it is about two things: either his extremism, or his influence. Besides his infamous meat grinder remark, he is mentioned as being a hero to many for cursing Alawites, being an influential radical Salafist cleric mentioned along with the likes of al-Zawahiri and other Qaedists in one article, demonstrators frequently chanting his name, being the Salafist Godfather of the revolution as the title of another article, being one of three presidential candidates in a survey, being on Saudi channels and calling for Jihad against the infidel regime in another article. Only once or twice he was mentioned in a somewhat different context, such as how he would be playing into Assad’s hands or in comparison with Sayyid Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi. The only serious and fair piece I’ve seen was Phil Sands’, but this was presented as old news.
This is not particularly aimed at Prof. Landis’ blog, for other than what he comments he simply collects from various sources and presents on the blog. It’s more about the collection as a whole, which essentially represents the way that this man is being reported about in general. It is more professional, more intelligent, more appealing than what Assad’s propaganda machine produces, but its core message is the same: this man is an insane extremist, and he is leading the revolution. And now, he’s practically leading the FSA! This is unfair to the revolution, from the FSA to activists to scholars to sympathisers, and it is unfair to Adnan Araour. The regime is doing it for a reason, Memri is doing it for a reason, but what reason could everyone else be possibly have?
Shaykh Adnan al-Araour is not the Imam of the revolution. Major scholars from Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and other places have been involved in the revolution. Some of them are with political opposition parties, as well as with the military councils, brigades and battalions of the FSA. They and their families have been targeted themselves and they have given followers, who include Shaykhs, Imams, students and members of the community, Fatwas to fight; their following is much more devoted than the following of any TV personality. It is true that no other scholar sat at such a gathering of all the military councils, which was held for the first time. This does not make him a pope, he was simply there, he spoke and he was clearly appreciated. He was not treated any differently than any other would be if he would be there, except that nobody was. So why him? Have they invited everyone and nobody was able to come, or would they have nobody else but him as was suggested, or was he simply at the right place, on the right time, under the right circumstances?
Not long before Col. al-Agedi, also present and speaking at the meeting, and others met with a local Shaykh who fought in Sayf al-Dawleh. There have been many meetings, gatherings, relations, contacts and so on between the FSA and the scholarly community and this cannot be scrapped just because Shaykh Araour attended and spoke at a big meeting. On what possible ground would this say anything at all about the FSA leadership’s religious orientation? The fact is that nothing of this has to do with ideology. The FSA represents the Syrian people, just like they individually did before the revolution. They come from all parts of society, most from the army and the rest are teachers, students, peasants, shop owners, unemployed and so on. The FSA leadership is overwhelmingly military in character, how did career officers suddenly become religious ideologists? Nothing in what they say or do would indicate this, and no part of Araour’s participation indicates anything ideological. On the contrary, everything we see emphasises their military culture. The only thing that could indicate Salafism, Islamism or any other religious ideology, is the presence of Islam itself, which is certainly there wal-hamdulillah.
Whether people like it or not, Shaykh Adnan Araour, is part of this revolution and of Syrian society and has every right to be, just like everyone else who may have religious or political beliefs that differ from the mainstream, be it to the left or to the right, Islamic or otherwise. Just like their leaders are assets to them in their struggle for freedom, so is Araour an asset for his followers in their struggle for the same. A civilized society is one in which people are willing to co-exist, if not in word then at least in deed, and Shaykh Adnan Araour is someone who is more than willing to do that in word and deed, and who is seeking to do so in this struggle against a regime that is neither civilized, nor part of any society.
Prof. Landis updated his recent post:
Addendum (October 10, 2012): This is a correction sent to me by my friend Thomas Pierret, who follows the sheikhs of Syria closely.
—Dear Joshua, In your last post on Syria Comment, you write that Adnan al-’Ar’ur has become a hero for cursing Alawites. I tend to disagree with that for two reasons:
1. The way al-’Ar’ur is perceived by many, especially among minorities, has little to do with reality. In reality, al-’Ar’ur does not speak much of the Alawites in his weekly TV programme, and he never “cursed” the community as a whole. His famous reference to “meat grinders” was very specific, it targeted “those who violated sanctities”, a reference to rapists. He made a very limited number of problematic statements regarding the Alawites but he’s never been “cursing” them. Accusations that he authorised the rape of Alawite girls a totally groundless.
2. Since Alawites do not feature very prominently in his weekly TV programme, focusing on al-’Ar’ur sectarianism doesn’t help understanding why he has become a hero to many in Syria. The main reason is that none else has devoted a two-hour long weekly TV show to the support of the Syrian revolution (his programme is called “With Syria until victory”). None else (either among the political opposition or other anti-regime clerics) has bothered directly addressing the Syrians on such a regular basis and in such an accessible (populist, if you prefer) way. Al-’Ar’ur is not only talking about politics in his show, he also (and mostly) addresses daily problems Syrians are faced with, from ritual issues to death and rape at the hand of the regime’s forces.
Best, Thomas, Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, University of Edinburgh—
Here is the video of the “Meat Grinder” speech for anyone who is interested. He divides Syrians into three categories: those who support the revolution, those who ignore it, and those who oppose it. He insists the judgement against those who are against us will be great. He speaks of the Alawites in particular at the end, saying that any Alawites who stand with “us” will be protected, but “those that stand against us will have their flesh ground in meat grinders and fed to the dogs.”
Also read this article – Shaykh Adnan Araour is not the Imam of the Revolution, but he is certainly part of it. Posted on October 9, 2012
Thank you Prof. Landis.